Review : Destiny 2 Witch Queen : Hello, Old Friend.

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I have been a Destiny fan since it was just an ominous poster on the streets of New Mombasa, as an Easter egg inside of Halo: ODST. Starting off as an extremely ambitious game from a beloved team, the game has come a long way since its launch. Throughout its journey Destiny has practically shaped a genre, while at the same time leaving nearly all of its competition in its wake. However, the Destiny story is not all victories, as it is largely defined by its peaks, but also its valleys. Bungie has forever been a studio that lived or died on its ambition, on its masterpieces and mistakes, and Destiny is no exception. Even though they deliver on that ambition more often than not, it is widely known that parting ways with Activision in 2019 also meant parting ways with a large amount of resources.

This created somewhat of an adjustment period where the expansions that followed the split needed to scale back. This is evidenced by 2019’s Shadowkeep and 2020’s Beyond Light expansions not living up to the content bar that the 2018 Forsaken expansion set. It has now been over two years since they became independent, and, despite recently getting acquired by Sony, they have had time to gain mastery over the ins and outs of an independently developed Destiny. However, despite their open commitment to the future of Destiny, a lot is at stake with the Witch Queen expansion. Many in the community, myself included, believe that Witch Queen is somewhat of a turning point for the franchise. Will this release play a key role in deciding if Destiny’s reign will continue, or will it mark the beginning of the end?

Tell Me A Story

Destiny, as a game, has long since carried forth, and in some cases even enhanced, the Bungie DNA that made Halo such a masterpiece…with one major exception. Despite launching in 2014 with a vast, ever-expanding library of exceptional lore, Destiny has never been able to successfully tell a good story or provide a particularly memorable campaign, especially when compared to the Mjolnir clad ghosts of Bungie’s past. Making this key flaw in the Destiny machine is somewhat of a paradox as a great story and campaign are hallmarks of the classic Halo experience. This is why it definitely raised a lot of eyebrows that, while at the Witch Queen preview event, Bungie spent the lion’s share of the showcase featuring the Witch Queen campaign. They billed it as a “definitively Bungie campaign,” even going as far as to compare it to the likes of DOOM, Bioshock, and, of course, Halo. Its an understatement to say that I came away from that showcase and into this expansion with high expectations, but also with a strong fear of being let down. In the end, though, that fear was misguided, and those expectations were actually not high enough as Bungie has not only delivered the best Destiny campaign of all time, but perhaps even the best Bungie campaign of all time. It’s a bold statement, indeed, but let me explain myself.

The story of Witch Queen takes place immediately after the events of the previous Destiny seasonal story: Season of the Lost. In it, a shaky alliance with the Witch Queen herself, Savathun, ends as everyone expected it to, in betrayal. She has escaped to her throne world (think, pocket dimension), and on top of that, she has managed to find a way to empower herself and her Hive with the Traveler’s Light. This is clearly a big problem since we as Guardians believe the Traveler chose humanity to wield the Light, specifically in order to combat the Hive and the many other beings of the Darkness, in order to prevent the next Collapse. Now, you either completely understood everything I just said, or it went straight over your head. Either way, it was intentional. One thing I wanted to get out of the way early is the fact that this is very much the 8th major chapter in a long running sci-fi franchise and not at all an on-boarding attempt to capture a new audience. With that being said, however, they do offer a generous level boost for new players, and the story itself is “technically” a self contained one. There is enough context provided that you could theoretically come in with no prior knowledge, understand most things, and come out of Witch Queen having had a good time.

If you are invested in the universe, though, the story will carry so much more weight. Characters you would have spent hundreds of hours with will have some seriously great moments that add new dimensions to their personalities or reaffirm existing ones. Questions brought up years ago will finally be answered and then, in turn, raise new questions. Certain truths once believed to be absolute will be brought into question. Faces will be put on some of the Destiny universes biggest mysteries, and there will be some seriously cool revelations that will have you asking yourself, “Would you kindly run that by me again?” All of these things are hallmarks of an excellent story and come together to showcase Bungie storytelling at its finest. It’s storytelling that is taken to even greater heights thanks to its compelling conflict and tangible stakes. “Conflict” in and of itself is, in my opinion, the backbone to any good story, and more often than not a good conflict exists thanks to the presence of a compelling antagonist, something Witch Queen has in spades.

The Mantle of Responsi-Villainy

Savathun, the Witch Queen, has been featured heavily in the Destiny lore since the release of Taken King back in the vanilla Destiny. However, while she was known to lore masters back in those days, the seed of her story was not planted until the release of Destiny 2 and its “Savathun’s Song” strike mission. That seed would be constantly watered, cared for, and woven by the storytellers at Bungie, only to finally fully blossom here. Having her being a dark, omnipotent presence in the hearts and minds of Guardians for so long has made her reveal quite impactful. She is known as the Hive-God of lies, cunning, and trickery, which makes you hang on her every word trying to stay ahead of her schemes. Speaking of her words, being voiced by Debra Wilson is also a boon as she has long since solidified herself as one of the best voice actors in gaming, and this performance does nothing to change that.

Savathun is a great villain, and her story is my favourite part of the campaign. She is also the trump card that I would bring to any friendly discussion on the best Bungie campaigns. Halo has a terrific story overall, and it also has fantastic characters, but its villains are more so constructs and ideologies then actual personas. The Covenant is a collection of aliens and an idea, and it’s a lot harder to hone in on and relate to something so vast. The lack of a true antagonist has always been the Achilles heel to every Bungie-made Halo story for me. Destiny, on the other hand, has had more prototypical villains, but they have been so hollow and one-denominational from a narrative perspective that they have been made no better than those in Halo, and in most cases they’re even worse. The fact that they finally got it so right with Savathun is what really makes this, indeed, a “definitively Bungie campaign.”

Become Legend

Of course there is more to a video game campaign then a good story and a great villain. The final pieces of the puzzle to the Witch Queen campaign are the changes to the mission structure and game-play. Previous Destiny campaigns featured a few quick missions, many of which were later repurposed into strikes. They were fun while they lasted, but they were ultimately forgettable and over far too soon. Thankfully, Witch Queen bucks that trend in some major ways.  For starters, the missions are significantly longer, by a factor of nearly three to four times. They’re so large, in fact, that each mission contains several checkpoints where you can take a break and come back to at a later time. Inside of these missions are more then just a collection of shooting galleries, too. There are puzzles, platforming segments, and bosses that require strategies and mechanics to take down. Things like this were previously saved for Destiny raids, which are activities that a devastatingly low percentage of players ever got to see. Having similar elements appear in the much more approachable campaign mode is fantastic. The introduction of the Light-wielding “Lucent Hive” is also more then just a plot device. Seeing the Light abilities that we have used over the years on our enemies being thrown back at us is quite the experience. The mechanic of needing to crush their ghosts in the palm of your hands after they fall in order to prevent them from being revived is also extremely satisfying.

All of this is turned up to eleven with what is by far my favourite new feature, the Become Legend Campaign mode. Become Legend is essentially a “Legendary” difficulty mode, which is something that Destiny has sorely missed in campaigns past. It forces you to, for the first time, actually be mindful of your character’s build and your fireteam’s composition during the campaign. The difficulty is also scaled based on team size, so if you do plan to go in alone, it is still a solid but manageable challenge. It also limits your ability to revive and respawn in some segments, which really encourages you to make smart use of your abilities and plan out your attacks. You will not be able to blindly charge into the fray with reckless abandon anymore, but at the same time the tried and true Destiny power fantasy is still there. It is a delicate balance that Bungie masterfully nails here. Gone are the days where the story’s big bad goes out with a whimper as you easily and inconsequentially dispatch them. Become Legend mode make’s some of the boss fights the best non-raid fights in the game’s history, and it makes the stakes that the plot is trying to create that much more believable.

The kicker is that the different modifiers added to Become Legend are interchangeable. Bungie can add and remove different modifiers to these re-playable missions, which allows for great replayability, and an even harder difficulty level can also be unlocked. When you make it through Become Legend mode, you will be very well rewarded. On completion, you are granted a free new exotic armour piece and a full set of 1520 level gear, which is 20 levels above the soft cap, saving you a significant amount of time levelling into the end game. It is the way I would recommend playing the campaign if you want to get the most out of the sandbox, however the story is just as good if you decide to play on normal.

Arts & Crafts

While the Witch Queen does indeed have a fantastic campaign, that is not all that it brings to the table. Its also makes some pretty significant changes to the Destiny sandbox with its Void 2.0 sub classes, and, for the first time ever, a legitimate weapon crafting system. In the last Destiny expansion, Beyond Light, the game introduced a Darkness subclass in addition to the traditional Void, Solar, and Arc that had been in the game since the original Destiny. The Darkness subclass differed greatly from the rest as it offered  great flexibility in terms of being able to pick and choose class abilities, perks, and passives instead of the traditional binary choice offered by the rest of the sub classes. With Void 2.0 that level of customization has now also come to the Void class, with Solar and Arc to follow in future updates. Flexibility, however, is not the only thing that Void 2.0 brings as it also enhances the Void sub-classes. New abilities, or new takes on old favourites, such as the Void Titan’s new melee ability which throws a void shield, a la Captain America, are incredibly fun to use. Being able to pick and choose every aspect of your class, and how that intertwines with the existing sandbox, leads to some seriously good build diversity. It is a shame, however, that the updates to the other sub-classes are not here yet, as it makes it hard to justify playing them over Void at the moment.

As I mentioned above, in addition to Void 2.0, for the first time Guardians are getting the ability to shape their own tools of destruction. In the past, Destiny’s weapons would have a pool of different perks they could drop in with when looted, and the effectiveness was determined by how lucky you got on the draw. Now, there are new versions of legendary weapons which can be levelled up to extract weapon blueprints or crafting materials. When blueprints are unlocked, you will be able to craft your own version of that weapon and select its perks. While freshly crafted weapons will only have access to select perks, the more you use the guns you craft, the higher level they will become, and more perks will become available to slot into them. For those who put in the time to level their crafted weapons, it evens offers enhanced versions of perks that are more effective than what would normally drop with non-crafted weapons. This further adds to your build identity and provides a lot more sense of attachment to your guns.

There is an argument to be made that this takes away from the thrill of getting a weapon drop the traditional way, but the game does still offer exotic weapons, quest specific weapons, and raid loot to make it so crafted weapons are not the only route to take. All and all, it is a very welcome system that gives you a linear way to progress your power climb which does not rely purely on RNG. The first gun you will shape as part of the campaign’s story is one of the new Glaive weapons. These are a melee/ranged hybrid that maintain the first person perspective, unlike swords which jump out to a third person view. While they are extremely fun to use and hilariously large when viewed on your back in the tower, it remains to be seen how it will impact the already solid weapon sandbox.

On top of that, the new sights and sounds that come along with Savathun’s throne world, Destiny’s newest destination, are consistently jaw dropping. Bungie’s art team has always been at the top of the industry, and with the Witch Queen they remain firmly planted on that throne. The Throne World itself features creepy swamp environments; dark, unsettling caverns; and gorgeous castle architecture that frequently had me pausing the game to soak it all in. Anyone who is a fan of the gorgeous Gothic fantasy presented in Elden Ring is in for a treat here, to say the least. What was even more surprising to me, though, is how they managed to level up the game’s already great music, which ties together with the beautiful new environments perfectly. All of this is running at a rock solid 4k 60 FPS on next gen consoles.

In conclusion, Destiny 2: Witch Queen is the best Destiny has ever been, and it is a fitting way to usurp the throne that was long held by the Taken King. The sandbox changes add a ton of fun to the already world-class game play, and they signal more great changes on the horizon. The post-campaign story is meaty and full of things to keep you entertained for a long time. They unsurprisingly nailed the “Vow of the Disciple” raid, which is not only a fun challenge, but also progresses the story forward in a meaningful way, something that has not always been present in recent raids. Best of all, its campaign is comparable to Bungie’s all time greats and provides the best villain they have ever put in front of their players. If this is what the future of Destiny is going to look like, then we are going to be eating well, Guardians.

Final Verdict : 9

     Fun Factor : 9
     Technical Prowess : 9
     Time Investment : 40 hours
     Replayability : 10

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By Eric Bezanson

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